The conservation and restoration workshops of the Museum für Islamische Kunst have been housed in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Archäologisches Zentrum since 2012, just a few minutes away from the Pergamonmuseum. These two modern workshops are designed to accommodate the needs of carpets and textiles on the one hand, and organic and inorganic objects on the other.
The artworks housed in the Museum für Islamische Kunst span from the 19th century all the way back to the 4th, and are renowned right around the world. The objects in the collection came from archaeological excavations, or were acquired by the museum or donated by patrons. Along with signs of general wear and tear and damage caused during their excavation, the objects also exhibit damage from improper restoration attempts and being relocated during the war.
The heterogeneous nature of the collection of the Museum für Islamische Kunst demands a broad spectrum of conservation and restoration skills:
Each restoration begins with a scientific examination of the object to determine its material make-up and the artistic and technical nature of its production, as well as an assessment of its condition, which often involves with highly complex forms of damage. This requires the use of a suite of scientific methods of analysis. As part of this analysis, particular emphasis is placed on identifying historical restoration work and processes of change that are immanent to the objects themselves. Understanding these factors helps to decipher the histories of the objects.
Based on the findings of the conservational analysis, for every object, a tailored conservation and restoration plan is developed. Often, in the lead-up to the restoration work, new methods and materials must be developed and experimented with.
All actions taken in the workshops conform to the ethical principles and standards of modern restoration work, and thus seek to be reversible. The conservation and restoration process is meticulously documented through writing, photographs, and sketches, as is the final outcome.
The workshops are also responsible for preventive conservation measures (in terms of regulating the climate, lighting, preventing pests that might degrade the materials) in all areas of the museum, advising on plans to award conservational and restoration contracts to external restorers, and overseeing international loans and exhibition projects.
The conservation and restoration workshops help to promote early-career researchers by providing the opportunity to carry out practice-based research and graduation projects. Additionally, both workshops offer temporary positions for students, freelance employees and visiting researchers.
The workshop is equipped with a washing facility that is unique in Germany which allows for a motion-free wet-cleaning system to be applied to the fragile, large-scale works of textile art. The system has been specially designed for the collection, which with some 450 knotted carpets and flat woven fabrics is among the oldest in Europe.
For presenting the carpets, the museum’s restoration workshop developed a special hanging system. Known as a “Berlin hanging”, it is based on a flexible framework that allows the textiles to be hung vertically without placing strain on the fabric. This allows visitors to experience just how unique these carpets are.
The textile collection encompasses some 750 objects, most of which are only partially preserved. A large portion of the collection is made up of textiles from archaeological excavations, which were produced with diverse and highly complex techniques. Due to their fragile material and tendency to fade, the textiles are constantly at risk of deterioration, meaning they cannot be kept on permanent display. Special exhibitions offer visitors the chance to at least gain first-hand access to some of these objects.
This workshop oversees the conservation and restoration of a broad spectrum of materials. The objects made of organic materials include wooden and lacquered objects, leather book covers, book art (single sheets, illuminated manuscripts), objects made of ivory, and paintings. Centuries-old pages from copies of the Quran or Indian miniature paintings on paper are stored in specially designed repositories, and due to their sensitivity to light, only a selection of these works can be presented in the museum for brief periods in the context of special exhibitions. One of the real highlights of the collection is the Aleppo Room, a suite of wooden panels featuring vibrant paintings, which is also one of the museum’s most laborious restoration projects.
Among the inorganic materials overseen by the workshop are significant excavation lots from Iraq and Iran featuring a rich collection of stucco decoration and ceramics. Some of the most fragile and conservationally demanding objects are glasses with designs painted in enamel or unique, early Islamic fresco fragments, along with lusterware ceramics. As well as this there are metal objects which are remarkable primarily for the diversity of their ornamentation and production techniques. One of the collection’s most unique holdings is the intricately decorated stone façade of the Jordanian desert palace of Mschatta and its sculptural fragments, which will undergo extensive restoration work in the coming years.